What exactly is yoga? It began in ancient India before being adopted as a Hindu discipline. It has garnered a great deal of popularity in recent years, and is often practiced for health and relaxation rather than spiritual awareness.
Although the term ‘yoga’ is actually very broad, it often incorporates some sort of breathing control, simple meditation, and certain body postures to achieve control of the body and mind. It is a very useful tool for those suffering from adrenal fatigue or other stress-related conditions.
Yoga is said to have a greater positive effect on people’s anxiety levels than many other forms of exercise. This may be due to higher levels of the brain chemical GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) often seen among people who practice yoga. GABA tends to have a calming effect. In a study out of Boston University School of Medicine, it was demonstrated that the increased GABA levels after a session of yoga improved mood and decreased feeling of anxiety. 
Most styles of yoga increase flexibility, boost stamina, increase strength, and increase awareness of our bodies. Yoga helps people release muscle tension, creating a sense of calm and peace.
Yoga often incorporates some sort of exercise, usually in the form of held poses. There are a number of well-documented studies showing that adding exercise (any exercise!) to your daily routine will help alleviate stress. In fact, it is often recommended as a way to combat anxiety and depression. This effect may have a chemical basis – exercise modulates the body’s main stress hormones – namely adrenaline and cortisol. At the same time, it stimulates the body’s feel-good chemicals, endorphins.
Long term reductions in stress and anxiety can help us to avoid the many illnesses that are associated with chronic stress and adrenal fatigue. Additionally, when practicing yoga your physical stamina and strength will tend to increase, improving self-esteem, reducing self-doubt, and allowing for a calmer mind.
Yoga may also help you regulate your weight. Overweight people have long been prone to higher levels of anxiety. In fact, anxiety and weight gain could be a vicious cycle where one symptom builds on the other. Yoga may help address the high levels of anxiety while at the same time working on toning the body.
There are a number of different types of yoga. Some styles are gentler, some are more vigorous. The following is a brief summary of the many different styles!
- Ashtanga Yoga
Often referred to as the original power yoga or yoga therapy, this style involves synchronizing a series of postures with breathing. The exercises produce internal heat that is expressed by a purifying sweat that is said to detoxify the body. This style of yoga is said to produce a stronger and lighter body, improve digestion and circulation, and promote a calmer mind.
- Bikram Yoga
Bikram yoga is practiced in high heat and humidity. It has only 26 poses, less than many other types of yoga. The sweat that it induces is said to be cleansing.
- Hatha Yoga
Hatha is a general term that encompasses the types of yoga that emphasize the physical aspects of the practice. The movements are usually slow and gentle, and breathing exercises are emphasized. It promotes relaxation along with physical strength, and is a good type of yoga for beginners.
- Hot Yoga
The studio where hot yoga takes place is usually set to around 95-105 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat increases the amount of sweat during your workout, which is said to detoxify the body as your muscles gain strength. See also Bikram yoga.
- Kripalu Yoga
This type of yoga uses meditation, yoga poses and breathing to develop a quiet mind. Its focus is on self-acceptance and peace without judgment.
- Vinyasa Yoga
Vinyasa links the movements of the body to breath, with a specific amount of breath between and during yoga positions. One movement flows into the next. It’s one of the most popular yoga types in the United States.
- Soma Yoga
Soma yoga focuses on slow, gentle movements and meditation. Both actions promote relaxation.
- Yin Yoga
This type of yoga is slow-paced and the positions are held longer than in most types of yoga. Poses may be held for as long as 5 minutes. These exercises are designed to improve the flow of qi (chi), the energy in Chinese medicine runs though the meridian pathways of the body, improving organ health and emotional well-being.
- Kundalini Yoga
This type of yoga is fairly intense and the exercises will be focused on the lower spine. The calm feelings come from an intense workout.
- Ashtanga Yoga
This type of yoga is also called power yoga. It is a physically demanding type of yoga and promotes calm through vigorous exercise. It is best suited to athletes or individuals who are already in great shape.
- Iyengar Yoga
This type of yoga uses lots of props. There may be bricks, harnesses, straps, cushions, etc. The focus is on body alignment, and is a great type of yoga for use in physical therapy. It’s a branch of Hatha yoga.
- Restorative Yoga
This is a great type of yoga for winding down after work or if you need to quiet your mind. Its focus is deep relaxation.
There are types of yoga suitable for nearly everyone, from beginner to advanced athletes. Many practices also include meditation, which by itself promotes calmness and relaxation. The physical exercise involved in gaining the correct poses and then holding them for the recommended period of time can increase endorphins, one of the feel-good chemicals of the brain as well and alleviating some of the stress hormones built up through the everyday living of life.
References & Further Reading
Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. (2010). “Yoga’s ability to improve mood and lessen anxiety is linked to increased levels of a critical brain chemical, research finds”, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101111160539.htm.